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N.D. to recover more than $316,000 for testing glitches

BISMARCK – North Dakota will keep more than $316,000 as compensation for technical glitches some schools experienced earlier this year when giving new standardized tests in math and English, Superintendent of Public Instruction Kirsten Baesler announced Friday.

Baesler said the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, a multistate group that develops tests aligned with the Common Core education standards, will forfeit $92,320 in membership fees from North Dakota, which is what the state had left to pay on the $553,900 it owed for the 2014-15 academic year.

Baesler said the state’s fee for the 2015-16 school year also will be cut by about 40 percent, or $224,102.

Schools were scheduled to start giving the online assessment to students in grades three through eight and to 11th graders starting March 16, but testing was pushed back 10 days to March 26 and then again to March 30 because of technical problems. A server also shut down for 20 minutes on April 14, kicking students out of the system.

Twenty-one of the state’s 179 school districts opted to use the paper-and-pencil test instead of the online test.

Still, Baesler said by phone Friday that the testing participation rate is expected to exceed the goal of 95 percent and be comparable to the rate of 98.5 percent in 2013-14. Test results are expected next month.

Baesler said testing was relatively trouble-free after the glitches were fixed, but she’s still requiring Smarter Balanced to take extra steps to ensure the testing ills are cured. Those steps include providing additional financial support to the state’s testing contractor, Dover, N.H.-based Measured Progress, to fully support the software program, and an evaluation of the software test delivery system.

“I will be continuing to monitor closely” whether the requirements are met “so that students don’t experience testing interruptions as they did before,” she said.

In May, Baesler announced a task force to study other standardized testing options for K-12 students, saying at the time that one recommendation could be to cancel the state’s three-year, $4.6 million contract with Measured Progress at the one-year mark in December. But that contract will remain in place for the 2015-16 school year.

“We’ll have this year to decide what we want to do in subsequent years,” she said Friday.

The task force will meet for the first time next week, and “nothing is off the table,” she said.

Smarter Balanced also is providing membership credits of $464,487 to Montana and $996,895 to Nevada, which also experienced problems with the testing rollout, said Kelli Gauthier, director of policy and communications.

Earlier this week, Nevada’s attorney general announced a $1.3 million settlement with Measured Progress over the botched rollout. And Montana’s education department is withholding $118,650 in payment to Measured Progress until test scores are delivered, the Ravalli Republic reported.

North Dakota isn’t pursuing similar action, Baesler said, noting Measured Progress expended extra resources to solve the problems.

In addition to the membership credits, Gauthier said Smarter Balanced is hiring an independent firm to evaluate the test delivery system; working with the national Center for Assessment to determine if the glitches affected student scores; and hiring a contractor to improve the system.

“I think we feel confident that we are addressing the issues that came up. This is a high priority for us,” she said.

Opponents of Smarter Balanced filed a lawsuit in June against Baesler and other state officials, seeking to end North Dakota’s membership in the group and claiming that the consortium is an unlawful interstate compact formed without the consent of Congress. They’ve asked a district court judge in Bismarck to issue a preliminary injunction to temporarily block the state from spending any more money with the consortium.

Mike Nowatzki

Mike Nowatzki reports for Forum News Service. He can be reached at (701) 255-5607.